Cultivate Righteous Routines and Habits
Because your great president knows you better than I do, I sought his counsel about what I might discuss in our time together this morning. I must be clear that I am solely responsible for my comments, which I have not asked President Richards to prospectively correct or confirm. His suggestions did lead me to think about a theme I have valued and personally considered in various ways for many years. Let me use an example that might be helpful to you.
About five and a half years ago, I had the privilege of sitting at the same table with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and others during a dinner for new mission presidents and their wives while they were attending their training seminar at the MTC in Provo. Elder Oaks remarked that he had heard a stake president give an excellent talk in New York titled “Holy Habits and Righteous Routines.” Elder Oaks didn’t share any of the substance of the address, and I’ve never seen a copy of the talk, if one actually exists. But it did cause me to think about many of my own habits and routines, a practice I’ve tried to do throughout my life. I invite the same of all of you today. That is, to ponder the patterns of living you follow and decide which ones are helpful and should be kept, as well as those that need to be changed or discarded.
As Sister Samuelson could testify, I have multiple habits and regular routines. Some are likely to appear quirky to you if I were to tell you about them, and others might be, hopefully, better understood. I don’t have any obvious addictions except for excellent ice cream, but I do arise in the morning at the same predictable time, generally, and go to bed at night when the news ends if we have the good fortune to be home by then. Many years I have not had the problem of deciding what color of shirt to wear when I get dressed in the morning, but I do try carefully to make sure that my socks are matched mates. I had a friend who showed up one day with a brown sock and a grey sock, and as people started to chuckle he said, “You know, I’ve got another pair just like it at home as well.”
I have patterns in the way I brush my teeth and shine my shoes and read the newspaper and so forth. I mention these trivial and relatively unimportant matters only to suggest that most of us conduct and maybe even govern our lives largely through habits and routines. If this is so, and I’m convinced that it is, then it follows that our habits and routines ideally should be positive and productive. And if this is true with routine matters of daily living, then it seems to me that it should likewise be the practice for things of greater importance.
The Savior was very direct and sharp with those he perceived to be missing the mark with respect to setting proper priorities. Said he: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the others undone.” (Matthew 23:23)
I believe none of us is a hypocrite, at least intentionally. But our behaviors need to correlate with our beliefs, and we must always strive to be clear about what the “weightier matters” in our lives are. Sometimes, for example, we might feel more inclined to respond immediately to our emails, phone texts and Facebook messages than we are to follow a regular and consistent pattern of scripture study or doing our homework before the last minute and thus not doing our very best. I sense that’s a problem here, since I saw a lot of phones when the president gave his good counsel.
Over the years, I’ve heard several of the Brethren in general conference mention the notion attributed to various people of early generations that we seek “that the things that matter most are not left at the mercy of things that matter least.” Another way of looking at this idea is to make sure that the unimportant things of life do not crowd out or deflect us from the most important.
While most of you at LDSBC would not quibble with the obvious value of giving priority to things that matter most, a careful analysis of our habits and routines might reflect something quite different. I doubt that any of us would choose consciously to be unproductive or slothful. I also believe many of us would be surprised if we were to analyze carefully how we prioritize the use of our resources, particularly our time.
I congratulate you that LDSBC does not have a student body afflicted with the serious problem of alcohol abuse found on many campuses. But we may have some less-obvious deficiencies that we might wish to correct. Incidentally, I’m sure President Richards received the same email that I did, inviting us to conferences to deal with how we are going to handle binge drinking on our campus. You know how we handle that, don’t you?
Let me share another potentially humorous example with you from my previous professional experience. A common theme in many weight-loss management programs and strategies is to keep a careful record each day of what is eaten, and the calories consumed. Successful dieters often remark after a period of substantial weight loss that they had never previously been aware of exactly how much food they had consumed. Dr. Kempner, one of the bariatric physician professors at Duke University when I was there many years ago, asserted that a common refrain among the morbidly obese patients he treated was that they couldn’t understand why they gained so much weight. According to him, a frequent claim among this group was, “I eat like a bird.” He then went on to remark that some species of birds may eat up to 25 percent of their total body weight in a 24-hour period. I hope you agree that none of us should eat like the birds that Dr. Kempner described.
My topic today is not about weight loss. But this illustration may help us to understand why it can be helpful for us to be more aware, not only of our routines and habits but also more accurate in our assessments of the time and effort we dedicate to each of them. Could we honestly report, for example, how much time each of us spends each day on video games, MP3 music, television, social media on the Internet, and other similar activities? Even though the prophets and apostles have counseled us to be involved in meaningful dating during our college years, do we still find ourselves mostly just “hanging out” because it is easier, cheaper, and requires less commitment? Only you can give the completely honest answer. But I would predict that there are those who know you well who could assist you in achieving the proper balance if you are open to their assistance.
Do very important matters like our prayers, scripture contemplation, and our class study and preparation have high priority, or do they fall into the category or pattern of doing them when we can’t think of anything else to do? You can imagine many more and likely relevant issues from your own lives that need careful consideration, but I hope you sense my general concern with these examples.
Now please understand—I do not represent the Church Educational System’s guilt and shame committee. Neither CES nor the Church has such a group. In the larger sense, I wish to commend all of you for your success and your intentions thus far in your relatively young careers. You’re more than good, but you have the potential to be even better. And your church, family, community and nations need you to be.
It’s not an accident that you are here at LDSBC. You are here at a time of important preparation, because you are going to be the leaders of the next generation. That is why we are so concerned, but also quite optimistic, about your future habits and routines.
Like you, I have high regard for the heroes of the scriptures, and I firmly believe that you are in the same class and rank as so many who have served with devotion and effectiveness in ages past. One of my favorites is Captain Moroni. Although I did not spend a long time in military service when I was just a little younger than most of you, I was in uniform long enough to appreciate those officers and leaders who were able to inspire and lead with effectiveness. All of us can likely identify leaders we have known and admired. Perhaps we also have observed leaders whom we have found lacking in some important leadership traits or characteristics. In the Lord’s plan, where we have the opportunity to interact with so many people during our lifetime, we can find ample examples of both kinds.
Perhaps the same kind of positive leadership will be required of you wherever you are or however you serve. Because this is so, let me draw your attention specifically to Captain Moroni. Many of you know a lot about him, but you can learn even more by carefully studying the various chapters where he is involved in the last half of the book of Alma. Moroni not only had a remarkable military mind, but he was also an exemplary priesthood leader and teacher. In the midst of his tremendous responsibilities in a time of serious warfare, the scriptures record that he had been “preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God.” (Alma 48:7) That sounds just like what the Lord expects of you as you complete your educational training and enter into your lives of service.
Likewise, I think it would be fair to say to you that your college and church leaders have the same expectations for each of you as the compliments paid to Captain Moroni and to Helaman as they lived in very trying times in the century before the mortal advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of yourselves and your associates as I read this assessment of Moroni and Helaman: “Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men [and women] had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.
“Behold, he was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah, yea, and even the other sons of Mosiah, yea, and also Alma and his sons, for they were all men of God.
“Now behold, Helaman and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni.” (Alma 48:17-19) And you here at LDSBC are no less serviceable, and will be no less serviceable, to those with whom you live and interact.
President Richards, your teachers and professors, your church leaders and others who know you well are witnesses that you students have the potential to be as serviceable to your people and families and to God as these Book of Mormon heroes I have mentioned. As I report this to you, and as you read both the scriptural accounts themselves as well as feeling what the Holy Ghost is trying to teach you as you read, you will conclude, as I have, that great leaders like them and those that you have the potential to become, have helpful habits and reliable routines.
To do what these extraordinary examples of yesteryear did and what we expect that you will do in the years ahead requires that you reflexively know how to think, to act, to work, and to accomplish what heaven expects of you. Now some of you are likely thinking that I and your leaders expect too much of you. That is not true. But what is true is the understanding we must all have that life is not easy for any of us. While we try to do our best, we make mistakes and exercise poor judgments on occasion. To be like Moroni, and ultimately the Savior, we must recognize that our agency is crucial and we need to learn to make better choices that are often difficult and surrounded by temptations and challenges.
That is why the gift of the Atonement was so essential to our lives, and why learning how to repent when we fall short is vital. That is also why proper habits and productive routines in our lives are so very important.
Many years ago, when I was not very much older than most of you, I was taught a very important lesson by President Spencer W. Kimball, who was then president of the Church. Without going into details of my sacred experience, let me share the scriptural reference that he said was the foundation of the lessons that he taught. I will just say that I was trying to help a young person who had made a terrible mistake but was changing his life and was seeking the forgiveness he hoped might be forthcoming. These are the verses President Kimball referenced from the Doctrine and Covenants: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man [or a woman] repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”
Some of you will recognize that is the 42nd and 43rd verse in the 58th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. President Kimball remarked how wonderful it is that we can be completely forgiven when we have truly repented of our sins. We should also know that, while we are grateful that the Lord remembers them no more, we should also have gratitude that we ourselves may not completely forget our past sins and our serious mistakes, so we don’t foolishly repeat them again.
Now a key point for our consideration today is that while it may be difficult to confess our sins, it is likely much easier to admit them freely than to completely forsake them. What does “forsake” mean? The dictionary on my desk offers this definition: “To renounce or to turn away from completely.” Forsaking is more than intention. It is action, and it must be lasting and permanent.
Let us be clear. Confession is a vital part of the repentance process, but equally significant is the requirement that we abandon and eliminate our shortcomings. That requires breaking and forsaking old habits and routines, and developing new, positive, and productive ways of living. And this process of reshaping, subtracting, and adding frequently takes more than a little time. I’ve never forgotten the kind counsel of the Lord’s prophet that we give my young friend a little more time to prove to himself that he had actually forsaken his sin.
Like so many other things, we don’t need to prove that to the Lord, but we do need to assure ourselves that our lives have changed, or, as Alma taught, we have “experienced this mighty change in our hearts.” (Alma 5:14) Aren’t we happy and grateful that the Savior’s Atonement is not a single event but continues to operate always and ever in our lives, when we do our best and continue to repent even when we trip and fall?
Most people with seriously negative habits initially suffer from setbacks when they attempt to forsake the unwanted vice. This is true not only with smoking or other use of tobacco, but is also true with alcohol and drug abuse. It is usually the case with improper thoughts or profane or vulgar language. Often, or perhaps even usually, this gradual repentance process requires the special assistance of priesthood leaders and even professional help. This is especially the situation for those of you dealing with the challenges of pornography. I urge you to meet with your bishop, who can help you get on the correct path of repentance and change. Some of the hardest habits to break are the least worthy or desirable to keep.
A mighty change in our hearts that is taught in the scriptures most often is accomplished by seemingly little but necessary alterations in our habits and routines. May I speak of one change the Brethren have wished to encourage but which you might not consider to be a problem or an issue at all? You will be aware I hope of the recent decision of our Church leaders and the implementation that adjusts the nomenclature for the wards and stakes where students and other young single adults attend, and in which you participate. We’ve had a tremendous history of student units in this valley that stretches over the last five decades. They were instituted because of particular needs at that time, and have blessed many lives. The program of the Church is that now we involve and incorporate all young single adults in units based on location and age, rather than on academic or other status. This requires an adjustment for everyone, and the early results are very encouraging. You and other students bring extraordinary strength to these wards and are doing a wonderful job of including and activating other young adults who have felt uninvolved or even unwanted. Thank you for what you are doing in this regard.
This is a vital part of the rescue mission in which President Monson has charged each of us to take an active part. Likewise, we hope that you will be firmly committed to being fully active in your own wards. We never object to your visiting other wards or friends and family on occasion, but we do strongly counsel you to be very regular in your attendance and participation in your own ward. That is where you should have your calling or pay your tithes and offerings. That is where you should be interviewed for your limited-use temple recommends, so you may do baptisms for the dead, or if you are endowed already as many of you are, your recommend to participate in the other ordinances of the temple. You are needed in so many ways, and participation in your own ward is one of them.
Naturally, those of you who are yet unmarried or unattached will want to shop for suitable potential eternal companions in as large a market as is possible. Let me counsel you to do so, and participate in social activities that allow you to become acquainted with a broader circle of faithful young Latter-day Saints. But let me also ask you not to forget that among your classes and in your own wards are wonderful young worthy people for you to date. And when you both feel the same, plan together for a temple marriage.
Your leaders that are here at LDSBC can tell you the many happy and successful marriage matches that have occurred between students here. I am not hesitant to say that this opportunity to look right here for a proper companion is not a small consideration among the leaders of the Church, who appropriate so much tithing money to this important institution.
While I’m talking about church-related habits and routines that we fervently encourage, let me add my strong endorsement of your institute of religion. Your teachers have been carefully screened and selected, and will help you round out your education, which will help you provide not only for your future success in the world of work but will also help you build and strengthen your testimonies of the restored gospel. It is important to know the gospel is true, but it is also vital to know the gospel.
The habits and routines that will assist you in successfully progressing through the institute of religion curriculum will be precisely the ones that, if you keep them, will sustain you in the challenges and struggles you will surely encounter as you serve missions, become wives, husbands, parents, and leaders in your communities and in the Church. It is likely that never again will you be in a situation or circumstance where you will be able to study the gospel in such depth and clarity as you have here with your remarkable faculty and devoted classmates.
Now let me, in our concluding moments, just visit with you specifically about private habits and routines. Admittedly, you are assessed by the world and evaluated by other people largely by what you say and do publicly. We hope that it is appropriate. But the Lord also knows you privately and intimately. He knows your actions, but He also knows your hearts. He knows what you are thinking when no one else does, and also knows what you are doing when your doors are shut and your blinds are drawn shut. He shares your hurts and disappointments, and is also with you when you succeed and find happiness.
Many years ago, the Church leaders began a series of studies of the young people of the Church, which have been updated from time to time with very similar results. The fundamental question this research asks is, what are the important factors in a young person’s life experiences that lead to a lifetime of happiness, church activity, service, and faithfulness to the Lord’s commandments? Obviously, the impact of solid families, church leaders, seminary and institute preparation, good friends are all involved—very important.
One factor generally not appreciated is that private religious practices and behaviors, or in the context of today’s discussion, our private religious habits and routines, have a tremendous role in our lives. You will be surprised when I tell you what things have been reported as being most important and have the most positive influence. This short list is not all-inclusive, but it’s very significant and within the reach and capacity of each of us. I invite you, as you examine your own lives, to make a list of your most influential private religious practices.
It came as a shock to some Church leaders that personal prayer morning and night is not always a pattern or habit, even among some young people who are active in the Church, attending their meetings and keeping most of the commandments. Those who have the habit of consistently taking their thanks and their concerns to Heavenly Father morning and night deal with the challenges of life much better than those who don’t pray regularly or thoughtfully. They have more strength to resist temptation, avoid serious mistakes, and quickly correct their sins through sincere repentance when they misstep or disappoint themselves and others. I hope you are all regular in your prayers. I hope you will consider the scriptural invitation to pray always.
Amulek put it this way in very descriptive language, targeted at the specific circumstances of the people he was teaching. Said he: “Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that you may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you.
“Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
“Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
“Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
“Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
“Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
“Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is the enemy to all righteousness.
“Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
“Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
“But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
“Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.” (Alma 34:17-27)
Now most of you, according to what I understand, don’t have crops and fields and flocks to tend. But you do have part-time jobs, tests and examinations to take, church assignments to fill, and many other responsibilities and concerns. Sincere meaningful prayer needs to be one of your helpful habits and regular routines.
Jesus, in his instruction to those living in this hemisphere immediately after his resurrection, said this: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him.
“And as I have prayed among you even so shall ye pray in my church, among my people who do repent and are baptized in my name. Behold, I am the light; I have set an example for you.
“And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto his disciples, he turned again unto the multitude and said unto them:
“Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.
“Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
“And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.” (3 Nephi 18:15-20)
Regular and serious prayer, scripture study, listening to general conference, reading the Church magazines, and pondering the instructions of Church leaders and especially the Holy Ghost, are all private religious behaviors or actions that should reflexively be part of our lives, if we are to be successful in accomplishing all the Lord has in store for us to do.
Know again that you have the confidence of your college and Church leaders. Know also that we and so many others are counting on you to fulfill the promises you have been given by your loving Heavenly Father. He knows you. He loves you. And together with our Savior, Jesus Christ, will provide you with the opportunities you need to be successful in returning to their presence with honor when your lives and service are complete. The gospel is true. We are led by living prophets and apostles who care about you. And they, together with heaven, care about LDS Business College and all who are here, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.